Brazil- The Amazon

We arrived in Brazil from Peru, crossing in the Amazon.  And as one might expect, this area is hot and humid.  The border was uneventful and simple to navigate.  The only hassle was the delay as we waited for the official to arrive after 1:00pm.  border brazil.JPG

We drove for a day through some jungle and savannah area.  The scenery was just miles and miles of the same thing.  I will spare you the torturous photos.  Here is the general look of the region.  Yes, much of the Amazon has been clear cut for cattle grazing. scenery.JPG

We also came upon a few rivers alongside the highway.  These were always wide, calm and grassy.  Most of them had homes along the shore.  scenery river.JPG Much of the road was paved, but had huge potholes from heavy trucks running this route.  Some sections of the road were unpaved.  The hard packed, red dirt was fine if it was dry, but could become quite sticky when wet.  scenery near riverJPG.JPG During this section of highway through the Amazon, we crossed over the equator again.  We passed through this landmark in Ecuador a few times.  But hadn’t considered that we would see it again in Brazil.  This will not be our last equator crossing, but all of them deserve a photo!

Along this route one must take a ferry across a wide river.  We had fun on the ferry and took some goofy photos while we were crossing.  The dogs seem to enjoy ferry rides, as they can look off across the water and sniff the breezes.

Our first major city in Brazil was Rio Bronco.  This offered us a chance to check out the Brazilian grocery stores.  We found snobby paper towels and copyright infringing potato chips.

We also visited a small local museum where we learned about the rubber harvesting of the area.  Extraction and commercialization of rubber from the Amazon forest is a huge part of the history of this area.  This museum gave us an introduction to the hard and dangerous work that the indigenous and the slaves carried out in this jungle.

rubber museum tour

During the tour we learned how the rubber is harvested from the cuts in the tree.  The little, white strings of rubber sap are heated and melted over a fire volcano.  The heat allowed them to form the rubber into a large, ball of vulcanized rubber.  These huge balls were shipped up the rivers to ports and sent to Europe and USA for processing.

rubber ball vulcanizationrubber vulcanization hut

friends on the road.jpg
We had the opportunity to travel with friends for a while.  It’s always fun to see things alongside someone new.

Continuing along the rough highway of Brazil we drove for several days.  We camped at gas stations and at a riverside. campsite riverside.JPG

After two or three days we arrived at Porto Velho.  From this city we would complete a major resupply and then load the truck camper on a barge bound for Manaus.  This would mean booking a barge or ferry and floating down the Rio Madiera to the Amazon and then on to Manaus.  It was a four to five day trip, with no stops.  We had a lot to take care of in this city.  Now it was time to test our speaking and reading of Portuguese.

Porto Velho has its own Lady Liberty.  And mind you, this is not a small statue.  This is a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty, located alongside a busy street in town.

In a supermarket parking lot we met a man named Solano who is fascinating.  He studies the Andes and teaches at the university.  He has overlanded much of South America in a 4×4 and he is building a huge rig for further overland travel.  This truck was an airport fire truck with low miles on the engine and frame.  And he has engineered some amazing hinge points for mounting the living box.  We had a great time with Solano and hope to see him again in the south of Brazil.

While waiting for boat information we took care of general business. This included a hair cut for Mike.  While there are many other options for a hair cut in Porto Velho, why not do it in an empty lot under a tarp.  For a buck fifty Mike received a fine haircut by a Venezuelan refugee. porto velho empty lot hair cut.JPG

Several times we visited the river and talked to people at the port.  We considered our options and tried to get on the earliest possible departure.  And while the scenery was lovely there, the temperatures were stifling and the situation was becoming more and more frustrating.

Then suddenly it all came together and we were told that our boat would be loading that day.  We arrived at the port and waited at the dock.  And we waited.  And we waited.  It was hot, still and pretty miserable.  dock waiting for a barge.JPG

After about 7 hours of hanging out in the parking area, we were called to the boat and the captain showed us the space that was reserved for our camper.  They had finished loading all the sacks of grain and sugar and we could finally be loaded on to the front of barge.  The spot reserved for us was next to a partially restored, military gunboat painted steel gray and a box truck of photography cargo.  It was a very narrow space.  But being at the front of the boat meant we would have scenery and a breeze!dock loading boat..JPG

dock this is our barge.JPGdock thats our spot.JPG

dock tight squeeze.JPG

We barely fit between the building and the loads of gunboat parts and the small amount of space to adjust (forward and back) we squeezed over to the far left, and then the box truck drove on next to us.   This would be our entire space for the next 4 or 5 days.  Just us and the wooden desk.  We became good friends. river boat parking.

Once we were loaded on to the barge,  a tug boat attached to the back and began moving us.  It should actually be called a “push boat”,  because it attaches to the rear of the big, long, flat barge and pushes us it up or down the river.    But alas, our little tug boat didn’t go very far.  It seemed they were having engine troubles.  So we traveled about 2km to the next dock, and pulled in at nightfall.  The trip up the Rio Madiera to the mighty Amazon River was not yet to begin.  We spent our first night tied up at a hot, noisy, smelly dock near Porto Velho.  We didn’t get much rest, and we were not in the best of moods.

The next morning the captain came around and said that we would leave by noon.  We were pretty hot and very fed up with waiting around!   We took a few photos of the boats around us and learned to manage the heat.  We introduced ourselves to our traveling companion, Chester Drawers and offered him some googly eyes.  We strung a hammock between our truck and the box truck next to us and figured out how to catch a slight breeze.   Then at 11:58, the little tug boat latched on to the back of our big barge and we began moving.

river tugboats.JPGriver hot dogs resting.jpgriver waiting for motor.JPG

river scene relaxing1.jpgriver chester has eyes.jpg We began gliding down the river and a slight breeze cooled us down.  We were moving at about 8 knots and watching the scenery pass us by.  We figured out the best spots to sit and catch the breeze, and the dogs figured out where they would go to the bathroom.  This would be our campsite for the next four to five days.river scene relaxing.JPG

Our first night on the Rio Madiera offered us an amazing sunset, with a sliver of a moon peaking through the sky.  The water was calm and the breeze was comfortable.  We all got a good nights sleep finally.

river amazon river sunset.jpg  During the day we watched the shoreline for birds and spotted many red macaws.  We also watched the water for dolphins, and lost count of those!    We passed floating miniature villages of house boats tied together.   These groups are dredge miners who vacuum and filter the river bottom.  This process nets small flakes of gold.  But it is a dirty, loud and ecologically destructive system.  river scenes dredge mining.JPG

We also passed towns and villages along the shoreline.  During most of our trip, there was no cell phone signal.  But when we saw a village on the shore, we would turn on our phones and hope to be able to check in with friends and family.  We generally had about 15 minutes of signal, before we passed too far and had to turn off our phones again. river scene shoreline village.JPG

The best breeze was always felt in the hammock between the two trucks.  We would relax there, reading a book and listening to the waves lap at the barge.  But Chester Drawers was always staring at us through the shadows under the truck. river chester is watching me.jpg Once or twice a day we would attach the dogs to a leash and take them for a walk around the barge.  This meant walking along the narrow gangway beside the bags of grain and sugar.  There wasn’t much to see or to sniff, but it was good to stretch our legs. river dog walk 1.jpg At night the dogs would sit outside with us, watching the stars and the twinkling lights of other barges boats that were navigating the Rio Madiera.  Although the mosquitoes were rough at dusk and sunrise, but by nightfall there were no bugs to bother us.  river dogs on gaurd.JPG  Days were long and somewhat boring.  The scenery would be nothing but river for a few hours, then something interesting would float by.   But mostly we just stared at the shore. river scenes dredge mining house.JPG

One day we were invited to tour the tug boat.  The first mate had a few beers and was feeling very sociable.  Although we knew there were 6 or 7 people back there, we had never talked to them or visited the boat where they lived.  river tug first mate and mike.JPG

The tug boat is a brightly colored, run-down wooden boat.  The living area is criss-crossed by hammocks and infused with the stench and sound of a roaring diesel engine.  The engine runs 24 hours a day and all conversation is exchanged at a full shout.

river tug skiff..jpg

Things got a little exciting the next day as we encountered a storm on the Amazon River.  We could see the storm brewing in the horizon sky.  We could see the rain churning the surface of the river at a distance.  And then suddenly we were in the midst of it.  The barge is wide, heavy and very stable.  But the waves were rocking us side to side and the captain decided it was safer to run us aground and wait out the storm.

river storm out there.jpg

After the storm passed, we found the large clump of dirt and grass that the barge tore out of the bank.  A piece of Amazon jungle soil had been delivered and the dogs enjoyed having something new to sniff! river storm we ran aground.jpg  We had a few more days of walking dogs around the deck, gazing at the shoreline and watching things go past.  This is a huge grain barge being loaded through a high pressure conveyor belt system.  river scenes grain loading.JPG

The scenery wasn’t always exciting, and we all spent a lot of hours napping.  Except Chester Drawers.  He never slept during the journey.river dogs pacha fell asleep.jpg

river chester in a headdress
Chester Drawers never slept

And then, the river journey was over!  We arrived in a bustling port in the huge city of Manaus.  We drove off the barge and waved goodbye to the captain and crew and then set out to explore Manaus.  manaus pacha driving.JPG Nica wasn’t feeling too good.  So we started with a great veterinarian.  He did a very complete exam and prescribed some miracle drug that we had never heard of.  Look it up, leucogen/timomodulina is an immune system booster that is not sold in certain countries yet can help so many illnesses.

We toured the fabulous Opera House.  This incredible beauty was built during the height of the Amazon rubber boom.  No expense was spared as a facility was designed to serve the social needs of high-class, European folks in their formal attire.  Ballrooms and stage areas are elaborate and colorful.  The artwork on walls and ceilings is of incredible quality.  Even the parquet wood floors and blown crystal light fixtures remind us of the lavishness of the rubber boom era in the Manaus, Amazon, Brazil.  manaus opera house

On display in one area are costumes and props from world-famous performers who have graced the stage of this icon.  These are the ballet slippers worn and signed by Mikhail Baryshnikov manaus opera house barishnikov  The plaza surrounding the Opera House has been the scene of many political and public scenes.  This area has a strong history of slavery, mistreatment of indigenous and other social injustices.  The plaza became the stage to play out much of that Amazonian drama.  It was quiet when we were there! But the pink beauty with her tiled dome represents money, excess and labor on the backs of others from generations past.  manaus operat plaza1.JPG

Manaus is a huge city with a variety of stores and malls.  We enjoyed exploring these and trying to cool off inside the air conditioning.  We also found a couple of geocaches while we were walking the city.  Here are a few photos, finds and signs from around the city.

manaus mall abandon crime
It is a crime to abandon animals outside the mall.  There are very few street dogs in Manaus.
manaus mall welcomes dogs
Inside the mall there is a pet play area.  Dogs on leashes are allowed in the mall in all areas except food court and movie theater. 
manaus mall bathroom oral hygeine set
This oral hygiene station is hanging on the wall in the women’s bathroom.   This offers free dental floss and mouthwash with little cups.  

And of course, because it is the holiday season, we saw Santa Claus on display everywhere.  Manaus is a very modern, globally aware city.  The Christmas decorations were elaborate and extensive in all stores and on many homes and businesses.  manaus mike and santa

We hope that you had a wonderful holiday season.  We will be leaving Brazil before Christmas gets here.  So be sure to follow along as we show you the next country we visit.  And you may want to consult a map, because you might be in for a surprise!


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